Waiting For Your "Eureka" Moment?

Sunday, 03 May 2015 17:02
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Many dramatized mysteries include a "Eureka moment" where the protagonist achieves a moment of supreme clarity that enables him/her to solve a particularly perplexing puzzle. Does this happen in real life? Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends...

Waiting For Your "Eureka" Moment?

In the historical movie the Imitation Game, English mathematician Alan Turing is tasked by Winston Churchill during World War II to lead a team of fellow math nerds to decode the German military's encrypted messages. Turing and his colleagues are frustrated by the German practice of re-setting the encryption scheme on a daily basis so that any progress that might be achieved during a given day is rendered useless once the codes reset. Even a sophisticated calculating machine designed by Turing to iteratively and automatically crank through decoding options is inadequate to generate desired success. (Attention: Spoiler Alert). Fortunately, Turing experiences a Eureka moment when he overhears an off-handed comment that causes him to make a terrific simplifying assumption about German messaging practices that allows the team to finally break the code. The Allies go on to win the war. In movies, television shows (e.g. note Dr. Gregory House) and novels, the Eureka moment is a fairly common dramatic device that precedes the solving of a particularly vexing puzzle. Usually this moment involves a prompt that causes the protagonist to make a previously unconsidered mental connection. We know that Eureka moments can occur in real life...noting Isaac Newton, Archimedes, etc... Real life Eureka moments can be every bit as dramatic as in the arts. While these breakthroughs tend to attract attention by their nature, they are pretty uncommon. Most successful technical problem solving efforts typically are much more mundane...they often result from a team grinding through a variety of options. While Eureka moments appeal to our sense of the dramatic, we can improve our own group problem solving success odds when we seek out inputs from diverse, and even unlikely sources. These inputs can come from within or external to the problem solving core group. For instance, for a surfaces modification project conducted earlier this year, our team identified several viable solution options from an array across several unrelated industries. Our results would have been substantially more limited if we had only explored solution options that closely resembled the case we were specifically studying. Aggregating diverse solution inputs alone doesn't guarantee success, of course. However, it does expand their thinking and can lead to better outcomes. When groups actively seek diverse inputs and approaches in problem solving, they should find that their success odds improve and hopefully their need for Eureka moments should decrease.

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